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This text of the Ballad of Mùlán is about as close as we come to a definitive edition of the famous story of the woman warrior Mùlán (木兰 “Magnolia”) who saves China. Her historical reality is unknown, and some evidence suggests that if she existed at all she may not have been Chinese, but rather the heroine of a story borrowed from tribal groups to the north. Mùlán's story, wherever it came from, appears to have been told in a popular song sometime in the Northern Wèi 北魏 dynasty (386-534, period 10i), and to have circulated in writing by the Sòng 宋 dynasty (960-1279, period 15).
The ballad is surprisingly short, and in comparison with the versions found in story collections, films, operas, children's books, and other media (not to say the charming elaboration in the famous Disney movie), it places a great deal of emphasis on Mùlán's feelings of longing for her home, spends virtually no time describing her military exploits, and includes no reference to any possible romantic attachments over her ten years of service.
The final reference to the interchangeability of men and women in time of emergency, with its provocative implication that both sexes are equally competent, is shared among all versions of the story, however, and is expressed here through a charming metaphor that has become almost proverbial.
As presented on this page, the simplified Chinese text is red and the traditional characters are blue.
|The Ballad of Mùlán||木兰辞
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Mùlán sat at home weaving,
but the loom’s resonant sound could not be heard
over the girl’s sighs.
Jījī fù jījī;
Mùlán dànghù zhī.
Bù wén jī shū shēng;
wéi wén nǚ tànxī.
Asked what thoughts and memories
led to this, she said,
“A girl should have no thoughts
Wèn nǚ hé suǒ sī;
wèn nǚ hé suǒ yì?
“Nǚ yì wú suǒ sī;
nǚ yì wú suǒ yì.
But last night I saw the call to arms;
the khan is calling up soldiers.
There were twelve scrolls of names,
and each included Father’s name.
Zuóyè jiàn jūntiě;
Kèhàn dà diǎn bīng;
jūnshū shí'èr juàn;
quánquán yǒu yé míng.
But Father has no son,
and I have no big brother.
I want to go to buy a saddle and horse
and serve in Father’s place.”
Āyé wú dà ér;
Mùlán wú zhǎngxiōng;
yuàn wéi shì ān mǎ;
cóng cǐ tì yé zhēng.”
In the east market she bought a steed,
and in the west market a saddle;
in the south market she bought a bridle,
and in the north market she bought a whip.
Dōng shì mǎi jùnmǎ;
xī shì mǎi ānjiān;
nán shì mǎi pèitóu;
běishì mǎi cháng biān.
In the morning she took leave of her parents
and went to camp beside the Yellow River.
She no longer heard parent’s calling to her;
by evening she heard only splashing of the river.
Zhāo cí yéniáng qù;
mù sù Huánghé biān.
bùwén yéniáng huàn nǚshēng;
dàn wén Huánghé liúshuǐ míng jiānjiān.
The following morning she left the Yellow River
and by sunset had reached Black Mountain.
She no longer heard her parents calling to her;
by evening she heard only the neighing of the horses of the barbarians at Mount Yān.
Dàn cí Huánghé qù;
mù zhì Hēishān tóu.
bùwén yéniáng huàn nǚshēng;
dàn wén Yānshān hú qí míng jiūjiū.
She traveled ten thousand miles to do battle,
and traversed mountain passes as though flying;
the night air moved the watchman’s rattle;
the cold light glinted on her armor.
Wàn lǐ fù róngjī;
guānshān dù ruò fēi;
shuò qì chuán jīntuò;
hán guāng zhào tiěyī.
A hundred generals died in battle;
in ten years she returned as a great warrior.
On returning she met the emperor
seated in his bright palace.
jiāngjūn bǎi zhànsǐ;
zhuàngshì shí nián guī.
guīlái jiàntiān zi;
tiānzǐ zuò míngtáng.
He praised her expansively
and gave her extravagant gifts.
The Khan asked what she wanted.
She replied, “I have no use for honors or servants;
I would only borrow a swift camel
to take me back home.”
Cèxūn shí'èr zhuǎn;
shǎngcì bǎi qiān jiàng.
Kèhàn wèn suǒ yù,
“Mùlán bù yòng Shàngshū láng;
yuàn jiè míngtuó qiān lǐ zú;
sòng ér huán gùxiāng.”
When her parents heard that their daughter had returned,
they went out to the village gate to welcome her back.
When her younger sister heard that she had returned,
she stayed inside to put dress herself up.
Yéniáng wén nǚ lái;
chū guō xiāngfú jiāng.
Āzǐ wén mèi lái;
dànghù lǐ hóngzhuāng.
When her little brother heard that his sister had returned,
he sharpened a cleaver to slaughter a pig and a goat for a feast.
She opened the door on the east side of her room,
and sat on her bed on the west side.
Xiǎodì wén zǐ lái;
mó dāo huòhuò xiàng zhū yáng.
Kāi wǒ dōng gé mén;
zuò wǒ xī gé chuáng.
She removed her war clothing and
donned the dress she had worn of old.
Looking out her window she tied up her hair, and
looking in her mirror she placed a yellow flower in her hair.
Tuō wǒ zhànshí páo;
zhù wǒ jiùshí cháng.
Dāng chuāng lǐ yúnbìn;
duì jìng tiē huā huáng.
She went out to see her companions;
the companions were astonished.
Comrades for twelve years, they
did not know Mùlán was a woman.
Chū mén kàn huǒbàn;
huǒbàn jiē jīnghuáng.
Tóngháng shí'èr nián;
bù zhī Mùlán shì nǚláng.
Mùlán said, “The male rabbit normally hops and runs,
while the female sits and stares.
But both flee fast when danger threatens.
How can one tell whether they are male or female then?”
“Xióng tù jiǎo pū shuò;
cí tù yǎn mílí.
Shuāng tù bàng dì zǒu;
ān néng biàn wǒ shì xióng cí? ”
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